Thirst (2009): It’s In the Blood

There are a lot of people who watched this film simply because it’s by the iconic, cult favourite, South Korean director/auteur – Chan-wook Park. Chan-wook, who also co-wrote the screenplay with  Seo-Gyeong Jeon which is based on the book Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola, has not disappointed us with his version of a vampire tale.

This is completely unlike any of his ‘trilogy’ films. Of course each of the trilogy films were very different from each other. They all had a “similar” theme, but, visually they were very unalike. Park has, with Thirst, gone completely outside his comfort zone and brought us a masterpiece in the guise of Grand Guignol Theatre.

Starring Kang-ho Song and Ok-bin Kim, Thirst is a love story, horror film, thriller, comedy and a tragedy. I never realised that it was possible to cram so many genres into a single film and more importantly still be able to pull it off. Chan-wook Park has not only managed to pull it off, but he has also, once again, made a film that really is genre-less.

Kang-ho Song plays Father Sang-hyun. He volunteers at a local hospital. He ministers the sick and dying patients, and he provides absolution when they die. He also takes confessions from the staff. But this job is taking a toll on his mental well being. He suffers secretly from depression and doubt about his profession.

He volunteers to become part of an ongoing medical experiment. A medical team is battling to find a cure for a virus known as the  Emmanuel Virus (EV). It affects only Caucasian and Asian men and it is almost always fatal. Sang-hyun allows himself to be injected with an experimental vaccine. When he starts to ‘bleed-out’ he receives a blood transfusion that turns him into a vampire.

He checks himself out of the experimental facility to find that he has been transformed in the public’s eyes as a ‘healer.’

He bumps into a childhood friend and gets an invite to join their Wednesday night mah-jong game. When he attends he gets re-acquainted with his friend’s adopted sister, who is now his wife. It turns out that all three spent a good part of their childhood together. The sister/wife, Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim) is drawn to Sang-hyun, just like she was drawn to him when they were children.

And so begins their ‘forbidden’ love affair. An affair that will escalate to murder and an almost complete surrender to their passion. It is the first mainstream  South Korean film to feature full-frontal adult male nudity, although not the first commercial film to do so. Made on a budget of five million dollars it can boast a gross revenue of well over thirteen million dollars.

I was completely engrossed in the film from the very first frame. I had no idea where the film was going and at no point could I second guess how it would end.

I suppose that is could be classed as an erotic thriller set in a fantasy. But as I said before I believe it cannot be put in any genre and that is what we have come to expect from Chan-wook Park.

English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Fil...
English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008): A Kimchi Western

The Good, the Bad, the Weird
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written and directed by Jee-woon Kim (I Saw The Devil, A Tale of Two Sisters) and starring Kang-ho Song (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, The Quiet Family), Byung-hun Lee (I Saw the DevilG.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and Woo-sung Jung (Demon Empire, Daisy) The Good, The Bad, The Weird is Jee-woon Kim’s loving homage to the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone.

Winning four awards and receiving nine nominations, TGTBTW is the second highest grossing film from South Korea only being beaten by Speedy Scandlal.

Set in 1930’s Manchuria, the film begins with The Bad(Byung-hu Lee) being paid to get hold of a Japanese treasure map being transported by train. Unfortunately for The Bad, someone else has just beat him to it. The Weird (Kang-ho Song) is already on the train and disguised as a snack vendor makes his way into the guarded rail car that has the map.

The train is stopped by The Bad and his cronies who have blocked the track. The Weird uses this opportunity to escape from the train, with the map, on his side car motorcycle. The Good, a bounty hunter (Woo-sung Jung) attempts to shoot both The Bad and The Weird.

The Good finally decides to chase after The Weird. They all wind up in a village where the Ghost Market operates from. The Ghost Market is a black market meeting place and since everyone seems to know about the treasure map, a gang of Manchurian bandits also want it.

Cue a brilliantly choreographed shoot out between all of the warring factions.

This film does mimic the Sergio Leone classic The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly to a degree, but only in rough terms of characters and the overall plot. Byung-hun Lee is the Lee Van Cleef of the picture, Kang-ho Song is the Eli Wallach, and Woo-sung Jung is the Clint Eastwood.

Jee-woon Kim adds just the right amount of pathos and humour to the film. It is paced perfectly and does not waste a single frame of film. The only complaint that I might possibly have about the film is the casting of Byung-hu lee as The Bad. He was so charismatic and charmingly bad that I actually liked him.

..at the opening night gala for the 2005 Hawai...

Kang-ho Song as The Weird, almost steals the film. He is both comic relief and deadly enemy. He is also the slowest of the three mentally, but what he lacks in brain power he makes up in sheer enthusiasm. He is a bumbling bad man and only chances upon the Japanese treasure map by accident.

Woo-sung Jung is very, very good…as The Good. He lacks the stoic ability of Clint Eastwood’s Character but he makes up for it in his taciturn attitude about bringing the bad guys in for the bounty.

The group of bandits also provided a lot of comic relief, but they also were very deadly if somewhat dense foes.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is Jee-woon Kim at his finest. He has so far done a couple of horror films, a gangster film, a psychological thriller and an epic western. I cannot wait to see his next venture. What ever it is, I sincerely hope that is has room for Byung-hun Lee,  Kang-ho Song, Woo-sung Jung and maybe Min-sik Choi.

I really feel that South Korean Cinema is leading the rest of the world in producing brilliant films. I also think that they are one of the few countries that still see the director as Auteur. That French invention that likens the director to a sort of demi-god status.

Asian Cinema seems to have more than its fair share of writer/directors and for the most part what ever accolades that they’ve received for their works is well deserved. I think that Jee-woon Kim has earned the title Auteur and may he continue to make films to prove it.